PBC school board moves to bar officials from asking students not to speak at meetings

Lake Worth High School freshman Miguel Cardenas says administrators pulled him from class to ask him not to speak at a county school board meeting last month. He spoke anyway. “You don’t let anything stop you, especially fear,” he said later.

Palm Beach County School Board members gave preliminary approval Wednesday to a rule that bars school district employees from discouraging students, teachers, parents or other members of the public from speaking at school board meetings.

Board members voted unanimously to give a preliminary go-ahead to the prohibition, which was triggered by a Palm Beach Post article about two school district administrators’ efforts to discourage a group of parents and students from speaking at a board meeting in January about a controversy at Lake Worth High School.

>>RELATED: Pulled from class: How PBC public schools discourage public dissent

The new rule would prohibit school district employees from contacting people who have signed up to speak at board meetings “for the purpose of dissuading, interfering or discouraging the speaker from addressing the board.” The rule faces a second vote before becoming official.

Attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union had asked the board to prohibit all contact between school district officials and people who sign up to speak at school board meetings.

That request was seconded Wednesday by the president of the county teachers union, Justin Katz, a former American government teacher, who said even quizzing people about why they want to speak out can be perceived as intimidation.

>>RELATED: After Post report, PBC schools may be barred from pressuring students not to speak

“It scares me when the government calls someone seeking to exert their First Amendment rights,” he said.

But School Board General Counsel JulieAnn Rico pointed out that banning contact between administrators and people who express concerns about problems in the school could create a host of unintended consequences and make it difficult to address easily resolved problems.

“It’s important for the district to be able to make those contacts,” she said.

Rico said her office will design a script that administrators can read when contacting people who have signed up to speak at board meetings.



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